My culinary tastes have certainly evolved over the years. When I was a kid, eating out meant McDonalds or Pizza Hut, and those were a pretty dang special treat. Granted, when I was a kid my dad was the manager of a buffet restaurant called Sweden House
- akin to an Old Country Buffet - so we actually "ate out" there several times a week. However, we were there so often that it had long since ceased to feel like "eating out." Either way though, the range of my experience was pretty much limited to typical American meat-and-potatoes type cuisine. Ethnic food was mostly limited to "Mexican" (i.e. taco night) and "Italian" (i.e. lasagna). Of course, this wasn't just because we didn't want
to try different things, when I was 11 we moved to rural Michigan where you literally couldn't
get anything besides generic American fast-food - at least not without driving an hour or more to the nearest "big city." Not that I was complaining - as a teenager I still thought a McDonald's Double Cheeseburger was pretty much the ideal food.
When I got to college I decided that life was too short not to experience all the good and unique things the world has to offer, and set myself a goal to finally branch out and expose myself to new experiences and different kinds of food. Gradually, over a number of years, I tried out Chinese, Thai, Mediterranean, Indian, and even Sushi. Even then, however, it was a relatively rare occurrence, especially since the middle-class and lily-white Chicago suburbs where we lived still didn't offer a whole lot in the way of diversity - more than the rural midwest to be sure, but still there were far more Chilis and Olive Garden's than affordable sushi or Indian places. And when we moved out to the farthest edge of the Chicago 'burbs, the situation got even worse - where we had to drive 20-minutes just to get to a Red Robin.
That's one of the reasons we enjoy living in Austin so much - it's such a diverse city when it comes to cuisine - so many different types of food, and tons of unique local restaurants. We love being able to try new things all the time, but of course after a while we end up settling on a few favorites as well. In that regards, after being here for about two years now, I thought it was time to list a few of our favorite Austin eateries:
Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffet
- we recently discovered this place up in NW Austin along 183. When it comes to ethnic food, I'm a big fan of the buffet concept (even if the quality of the food is thereby somewhat diminished), mainly because I don't really know what a lot of it is, and the buffet lets me try out lots of different stuff. Dimassi's has two really long buffet lines, with lots of great options. The best dish here by far, however, are their lamb shanks - literally falling off the bone. The baklava for dessert is really good too.
Alborz Persian Cuisine
- this nice little place on Anderson Lane has both a buffet and a regular menu. They also have belly-dancers on weekend evenings. I had never had Persian before, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and very unique - kind of a half-way point between Middle Eastern and Indian food (which, of course, geographically speaking, it is). It wasn't nearly as spicy as Indian, and had a lot more sweet flavors (lots of cranberries, cinnamon, and ginger).
- this is a standard Indian buffet just off of Mopac on Far West Blvd, nothing real unique (if you're already a fan of Indian buffet's), just everything we like.
- an unoriginal name but very good Thai food up on Parmer Lane, just northwest of Mopac.
Crave Thai & Sushi Bar
- this is down on the Drag next to UT, and has really good sushi (we haven't even tried the "Thai" part of the menu) and saki. We often go here for dinner before heading down to 6th Street or wherever for our nights on the town.
- we've only been to the one on the Drag by UT, though I think a new one just opened up on Anderson Lane next to the Alamo Village Drafthouse. Pretty standard Thai food, but very good.
- this is a create-your-own sushi place up in the Arbor Walk along north Mopac and 183. The quality of sushi isn't fantastic, but it isn't bad either, and I like being able to make it with exactly the ingredients that I want. We also love that we're able to make "kid-friendly" sushi (usually with chicken, fruit, and cream cheese) that Emma and Aidan will eat.
Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant
- if you've never had Ethiopian food, you're missing out. In some ways it's similar to Indian (lots of vegetables and spices, and you pick up the food with your bread), but very different as well. We love it. Oh, and the coffee is out of this world (which makes sense, since coffee originated in Ethiopia). Just have it black with one spoonful of sugar.
Simplicity Wine & Eats
- another new discovery, this is a little wine and tapas bar on Burnet Rd in north-central Austin, not too far from the Triangle. The food is really, really good, and the vibe is very laid back - more like a neighborhood bar (except classier).
- though this is a small chain (we've come across them in Dallas too), it has really good and affordable French dishes (not the fine-dining type, but more of the corner cafe variety). It's open for breakfast too, which is a plus.
- this local chain (which has three locations in Austin - all of which are great, though the atmosphere is better at the downtown and East Manor restaurants) has some of the best mole we've had, and really good salsa and queso as well.
- this Tex/Mex place up along I-35 in Pflugerville is one of ours (and our kids') favorites. Not only is the food good, but meals come with free sopapillas and ice cream for dessert.
- though this chain isn't exclusive to Austin, the vibe is very Austin-y, and the good is great! I especially like that they feature New Mexican items like blue corn enchiladas and hatch green chiles.
- cheap (but good) taco places are one of those things we just didn't have up in the Midwest, but that I've come to appreciate since moving down to Texas. Among them, Torchy's (tag line: "Damn Fine Tacos") is one of the best, and an Austin original. This was one of my go-to places for a quick bite within walking distance of my Seminary (on the Drag), though they have several locations around town.
Kerbey Lane Cafe
- another unique Austin eatery, Kerbey Lane is a classic - very unique dishes, and the Kerbey Queso (with white queso and guacamole mixed together) is fantastic. The only downside is that, even with three (or four?) locations around town, they still always seem to be packed.
- though this probably isn't the absolute best Texas BBQ place in Austin, it's the one that is closest to our house (literally right around the corner), and one of Emma's favorite places to eat.
- Cajun food is another thing that we don't really have in the Midwest, but that I've come to enjoy since moving down south. Though this is a chain restaurant, it still seems pretty authentic, and very good.
Amy's Ice Cream
- Amy's is an Austin classic, and always has very unique flavors (including beer and liquor flavored ice cream).
Phil's Ice House
- Phil is Amy's (of Amy's Ice Cream) husband, and connected to one of the ice cream shops in north central Austin on Burnet Rd is this burger place that has, for my money, the best, and most unique burgers in town. If you go, get the 78704 burger. Don't ask why, just get it. Oh, and we love the outdoor playground for the kids they have there as well.
- an organic fast-food joint. Yes, it's still fast-food, but the quality of the ingredients is way, way better, and so is the taste.
- though it's a nationwide chain, it's still a really good deli, and one that I first encountered down here in Austin. I especially like that they're making an effort to eliminate the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup from all their items (including their sodas). Real food always tastes so much better.
- a local deli near Julie's parents' house on Far West Blvd that also serves gelatto. Yum!
- though it's now a nationwide chain, Scholtzsky's got their start right here in Austin. Known for their unique bread, this is one of Julie's favorite "fast food" places.
- recently discovered this pub in The Triangle. They have great beers and German food, including an amazing soft pretzel covered in bratwurst, sauerkraut and cheese!
- there are several locations around Austin, and apparently each one has a unique menu. The one near out house, on the corner of Parmer and Mopac, has really good pub standards - e.g. burgers, fish 'n chips, etc.
And in a catgory all by itself...
The Alamo Drafthouse
- a quirky movie theater, brew pub, and restaurant all in one. What more could you ask for? It's gotten to the point where we no longer want to go to the movies anymore if it's not at the Drafthouse.
Of course, a lot of these favorites are based on where we live up here in North Austin. I know that if we lived closer in to Central Austin, and had the time and money to eat out more often, or to go to the really nice restaurants, there are tons more good places I could add to the list. These are just the ones convenient to us that we keep going back to. Do y'all Austinites have any others that you would recommend we try?
Labels: Austin, personal